Native Americans in North America
Generally, ethnic groups desire
that others use the name they gave themselves. This preference has
gained importance recently as a means of avoiding ethnic discrimination.
The principle applies poorly to larger, multi-ethnic groups since
different sub-groups often have incompatible preferences. English,
like other natural languages, has traditionally ignored this principle,
exerting its privilege to invent its own ethnic terms, such as German,
Dutch, and Albanian, and disregarding the self-apellations and preferences
of the subjects. Not surprisingly, English names for the pre-Columbian
Americans are largely assigned by tradition, and are not always accepted
by the peoples themselves.
and American Indian
The terms Indian or American Indian were born of the misconception by
Christopher Columbus that the Caribbean islands were the islands in Southeast
Asia known to Europeans as the Indies. Despite Columbus's mistake, the
name stuck, and for centuries the native people of the Americas were
collectively called Indians.
The term Native American was introduced in the United States by anthropologists
who considered Indian quaint, demeaning, or inaccurate. (See "political
correctness" for a discussion of this approach to altering language.)
However, a 1996 survey revealed that more "natives" in the
United States still prefer American Indian to Native American.
the preferences of American Indians, American teachers
and academics (excepting many historians, who generally
use the historical term) have persuaded most "white" Americans
to use the term "Native Americans." Many Americans
mistakenly believe Indians is offensive; Russell Means,
the famous American Indian activist, is instead offended
by the term Native Americans.
to Native American Naming
Some American Indians oppose the term Native American because, they argue,
it serves to ease the conscience of "white America" with regard
to past injustices done to American Indians by effectively eliminating "Indians" from
the present. However, most American Indians in the United States are
comfortable with Indian, American Indian, and Native American. Among
American Indians, the preferred method of referring to an American Indian
person as such is to use the tribal designation if known. "Wes Studi,
the American actor, is Cherokee" is thus probably preferable to "Wes
Studi, the American actor, is an Indian."
people argue that Native American is inappropriate because "native
of" literally means "born in", so any person
born in America is "native" to it. A more serious
difficulty with this term is that several ethnic groups
traditionally excluded from the American Indians were just
as "native" to the Americas as them. These groups
include the Inuit, Yupik, and Aleut peoples of the far
north of the continent. Eskimos was once used for these
groups, but this term is in disfavor because it is perceived
by many of them as derogatory.
In Canada the term First Nations is used to refer to Native Canadians,
except for the Inuit and the Métis. The Canadian Indian Act however,
which defines the rights of recognized First Nations, refers to them
as Indians. In Alaska, the term Alaskan Native predominates, because
of its legal use in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANSCA) and
because it includes the Eskimo peoples. In Latin America, the preferred
expression is Indigenous Peoples (pueblos indígenas in Spanish,
povos indígenas in Portuguese). However, Indians (indios, índios)
is often used too, even by the natives themselves. Red Indian is a common
British term, useful in differentiating this group from a distinct group
of people referred to as East Indians, but considered offensive in North
America, where it is rarely if ever used. In the French language, the
term Amérindien has been coined, and the English term Amerindian
(sometimes abbreviated Amerind) is sometimes used in the social sciences
to refer collectively to all Native American peoples or cultures.
Because the ancestors of the "Native" Americans are thought
to have arrived from Asia, some people have proposed Asiatic Americans
as being more historically accurate. This term is easily confused with
Asian American, and it is considered offensive by many natives whose
religious belief is that they have been in the Americas since the dawn
of time. Furthermore, there is a strong tradition in archaeological and
anthropological nomenclature to name peoples after the geographical location
where they were first documented, rather than for their hypothetical
region of origin.
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